Allowing 36 unanswered points in the second half of a state semifinal – that’s not easy to do.
Allowing 36 unanswered points in the second half of a state semifinal and still comfortably advancing to the state championship game – that’s an even neater trick.
But that was the strange story for St. Joseph’s Prep in Saturday’s PIAA Class 6A playoff clash against Souderton.
The Hawks built a 51-7 lead, creating plenty of cushion to withstand the Big Red’s furious rally. The Hawks won, 51-43, and punched the two-time reigning state champions’ ticket to the title game Saturday night at HersheyPark Stadium.
St. Joseph’s Prep (5-0) will seek its third straight state title and fourth in the last five seasons in a battle with Central York (10-0) in the final of six championship games set to finish the fall season.
Central York beat McDowell, 37-21, in Saturday’s other semifinal.
“This is what we’ve been talking about since sophomore year,” St. Joseph’s Prep quarterback Kyle McCord said after the most productive first half of his illustrious career.
McCord, an Ohio State recruit, threw six touchdown passes in the first half as St. Joseph’s built a 44-7 advantage at intermission on a warm afternoon at Cardinal O’Hara.
When St. Joseph’s senior Malik Cooper returned the second-half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, the Hawks were in front by 51-7, and coach Tim Roken called on the team’s reserves to finish the game.
“We have faith in our younger guys, so we gave those guys an opportunity,” Roken said after watching Souderton score five touchdowns in the second half.
Senior quarterback Evan Kutzler passed for three touchdowns, and ran for another for Souderton (7-1), the District 1 champions who earned a rousing ovation from their cheering section after scoring one final touchdown and adding a two-point conversion, with just three seconds on the clock.
The second half was played with a running clock because the St. Joseph’s lead of 44-7 at the break instituted the “mercy rule” under PIAA guidelines.
McCord was 12-for-22 for 196 yards and six touchdowns. The star quarterback as well as senior wide receivers Sahmir Hagans (four catches, 46 yards, three touchdown) and Marvin Harrison Jr. (three catches, 88 yards, two touchdowns) didn’t play a snap of offense in the second half.
“It was all because of my teammates,” McCord said. “Our O-line did a great job. They threw some new looks at us, different blitzes. But they picked it up right off, and then the receivers made some great plays in contested catches.
“I just happen to be the one who gets the credit in the stat sheet.”
Hagans, a Duke recruit, caught touchdown passes covering 25 and 10 yards in the first quarter. Harrison Jr., an Ohio State recruit, caught touchdown passes good for 30 and 36 yards, also in the first quarter.
Add in a safety as senior Julian Talley, a Penn recruit, blocked a punt out of the end zone, and the Hawks had a 30-0 lead after one quarter.
“We have to a better job finishing the game, but the first half, we showed we were dominant,” Hagans said.
Souderton 0 7 21 15 – 43
St. Joseph’s Prep 30 14 7 0 – 51
SJP: Sahmir Hagans 25 pass from Kyle McCord (Antonio Chadha kick)
SJP: Hagans 10 pass from McCord (Chadha kick)
SJP: Safety (Punt blocked out of end zone)
SJP: Marvin Harrison Jr. 30 pass from McCord (Chadha kick)
SJP: Harrison 36 pass from McCord (Chadha kick)
SJP: Hagans 4 pass from McCord (Chadha kick)
S: Evan Kutzler 3 run (Nick Haynes kick)
SJP: Maurice Clark 3 pass from McCord (Chadha kick)
SJP: Malik Cooper 85 kickoff return (Chadha kick)
S: Kyle Bob 31 pass from Kutzler (Haynes kick)
S: Shaun Purvy 48 pass from Kutzler (Haynes kick)
S: Jalen White 2 run (Haynes kick)
S: Purvy 33 pass from Kutzler (Haynes kick)
S: Brayden Porter 5 run (Sean McGoldrick pass from Kutzler)